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Notable from the underground: Gehry to remodel museum hall

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010



The Philadelphia Art Museum has broken ground for an expansion plan, and one of the world’s foremost museum architects has designed it. Frank Gehry will put his modern stamp on the historic building.

Gehry roared to international fame in 1998 with the Bilbao museum in Spain, a playful riot of free-form curves that defined contemporary architecture. Philadelphia can now boast it has its own Gehry, but it’s all underground.

The architect was treated as royalty Tuesday as he entered a grand vaulted hallway that has been shut off and unused since 1975. Running underneath the terrace atop the museum steps, the hall will be remodeled by Gehry into an area to store and prepare art for exhibition. He said the “ferocity” of the original architectural designs allows the building to be changed without compromise.

“A community seems to need art museums,” said Gehry. “When they are built people come. There’s a basic human need. I’ve been talking to neuroscientists about that recently, trying to figure out how basic is the need. It’s pretty powerful.”

The Museum’s long-term goal is to dramatically expand its gallery space. But because the building cannot be built upward or sideways, it will go downward. After the new art-handling facility is finished in 2012, work on new underground galleries will begin.


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